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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015

strengthening, unifying and connecting greater Cleveland's arts and culture sector

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Move Social Causes Through Your Art

Last week a number of us participated in a Creative Capital webinar with nationally renowned artist and advocate Stephanie Bleyer of Six Foot Chipmunk. Immediately taken by her energy and passion for advancing social causes through her work, I was continually impressed by her ideas. She has worked on strategic plans for a number of high-profile projects, developing activists through documentary film. She shares her passion and expands her reach by partnering with existing causes to make a lasting and emotional impact through art. I’ve seen some great examples of creative film being used to advance causes on the Daily DoGooder (if you’re not familiar, it cheers up my inbox each day), but Stephanie really got to how it’s all done from the ground up.

At first it was a whirlwind of information rushing past, but it all made sense. I immediately wanted to engage, but with so much fantastic information, I found it difficult to grab ahold of a single solid piece and run with it. So I tried to think about those ideas that I’ve heard about in other contexts. For example, she reminded me of our Arts and Culture Roundtable with Kelly Barsdate talking about meeting with public officials around cultural policy. Stephanie works with her clients to answer two questions: 1. How do I reach my target? 2. When people view the work, how do I help them with their question “what can I do to help?”

As far as our work with arts and culture policy in the Cleveland area, we have to answer the same questions. I’m sure there are a number of projects you are working on right now that beg the questions: “who needs to see this?” and once they see it, how do I get them to take action? The first question depends greatly on the project. Does it need to get directly in the hands of decision-makers or do they need to be impacted by a second tier of influencers? Who has the authority to make direct change? Or is it the people who are personally impacted by the issue that need to be inspired and organized to act collectively? My guess is all parties to some degree, but how you direct your focus is a much more difficult question. The number one way that Stephanie sites to reach your audiences is through partners that are already connected with them. 

The second question, “what can I do to help?,” is all about appealing to people organically and immediately rather than phoning in a service request. It’s difficult to ask someone who just experienced an emotional ride through your work to “call his or her public officials” or “sign this petition.” In Stephanie’s words “maybe all they want to do is call their friends and tell them they love them.” 

So how do we tap into that emotion? How do we capture that inspiration and make an impact that reaches our leadership? How do you shift your audience from hopefully engaged into civic activists? It’s not a petition, it’s not a science, and it’s not just about feelings. In all honesty, it depends so deeply on the art, the movement, the context and the individuals. I’d love to see stories, videos, or articles of Cleveland’s arts and culture sector making change and building movements through their work. We know you have them. Don’t hold back!

Categories: accessibility, advocacy, audience, Best Practices, civic, community organizing, cross-sector, experience, issues, leadership, partnership, strategic planning

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